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Pro Rel Week: Fan Power at its Best

23 May 2016

FanVox was a proud supporter of Pro Rel Week, a joint fan power campaign led by different supporter groups in North America with the aim of raising awareness on the establishment of promotion and relegation in their football pyramid

Football is the most popular sport in the world. It unifies, it can be played in any condition, anywhere across the globe. Even in North America, where other sports like American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey rule the professional landscape. Soccer in North America is different from football in the rest of the world, where the team with the best results, no matter how big their resources are, wins and the teams with the worst results get RELEGATED.

In North America, no team is being promoted or relegated regardless of their sporting results. It doesn’t follow the pattern of competitiveness and meritocracy as elsewhere in the world. It follows a business model just as its four main professional football leagues. In this business model, one stakeholder is hardly being considered, the fans. Fans want change, they want the team representing their communities to have the same equal opportunities to compete and succeed as any other team in the country.

Last week, fans associations in North America held the Pro Rel Week, a seven days campaign to raise awareness on the need of a promotion and relegation system in the North American football pyramid. The week of the 8th-14th May coincided with the opening of the US Open Cup (the 100-year-old knock-out competition in the US involving the whole US football pyramid), and whilst some nice activity in favor of Pro/Rel has been seen in the stadiums of North America, it has also been a good opportunity for people overseas to put the light on the situation of US Soccer.

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Why Pro/Rel?

Professional football in the US is composed of three distinct entities competing between each other: Major League Soccer (MLS), North American Soccer League (NASL) and the United Soccer League (USL). Premier Development League (PDL) and National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) act both as fourth divisions. The leagues organize their competitions where franchises compete, paying a joining fee, buying their right to play. Professional football in North America is organized almost naturally in the same as other major professional sport leagues. But opposed to other sports where the US is the benchmark worldwide, football in North America and its closed system do not fill the gap with the rest of the world (especially Europe and Latin America).

A promotion and relegation system would bring competitiveness in all parts of the football pyramid and would help teams from minor leagues to get visibility. This will also boost the growth of talented players and a major investment in clubs and territories from lower divisions. Needless to say that people at the top of the US Soccer Federation and of the main soccer professional leagues have a different mind-set. They built a soccer system made to entertain and where profitability is key. MLS is considered as the first division and as the first division the price to enter the league is high: As an example, New York City FC purchased an expansion fee of $100 Million in 2013. The high representation of MLS components in the US Soccer Federation makes it another issues to overcome for the institution of promotion and relegation.

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The US is a big country and there is no reason why it’s national football team couldn’t be successful at an international level.A reform of its professional system is key for the promotion of talented players who start young in small clubs but who cannot get the visibility that they would need as their team won’t ever been promoted. And as the competitiveness component is lacking in the championships, players are not pushed to get better.

When Fan Power Meets Technology

The Pro Rel Week campaign got a considerable support on social media; various podcasts have been held, carves and banners have been displayed in various stadiums and it gained attention from media operators as BeIN Sports, XM Radio and Fox. The activity on the social networks has been considerable with #ProRelWeek – a way to understand the support of fans in favor of a promotion and relegation system based on an international benchmark. FanVox also had the chance to discuss extensively with the Pro/Rel Supporters’ Association on the importance of their cause and how it can improve US Soccer (listen to the podcast below).

On our discussion platform, we highlighted the key points of the movement as days went by. For instance, the importance of competition was constantly stressed; it is intrinsically related to success, as Jerome de Bontin, former General Manager of New York Red Bulls, pointed out.

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A special attention was given to  FC Cincinnati, a new franchise competing in the USL, which broke the record of attendance of the league on it’s second home game demonstrating of the popularity of football in this region. And talking about attendance, 74,627 fans have attended the USL games during Pro Rel Week, breaking the last record in over 9,000 fans. In addition, there was the opportunity to get to know the case of Stockade FC, a club built from the scratch as a response of the need to have a local team to support, to have its city, community represented in the US Soccer landscape.

“If there’s something you want to see in the world and it doesn’t yet exist, go out and make that thing.”

– Dennis Crowley, Stockade FC Founder

As an outcome of Crowley’s understanding of the US Soccer needs and opportunities, a new football pyramid was drafted by the activists. It left MLS out of a Pro/Rel system, and focused on the enthusiasm and support shown on lower leagues.

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During the past weeks we have witnessed new ideas and proposals have been raised by different people with similar mindsets, coming together to stand up for a unique cause.

What comes next?

Overall, the campaign has been positive and the Pro/Rel movement is getting more organized with the conviction that the institution of a promotion and relegation system in the US Football system is feasible. Following this, the supporters associations are willing to keep up their efforts and have already scheduled the 2017 ProRelWeek.

In two week’s time, the Copa América Centenario will be underway in the US and there will surely be more initiative from the Pro/Rel supporters to gain visibility and grow the movement furthermore.

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